"How can I explain? I wasn't me, and you weren't you. From the very beginning to the very end, we didn't see things. What we did—we made each other up."
When Nazneen decides to end her affair with Karim, she gives him this explanation. She claims that she did not behave as herself when she entered into the affair. Following a vision she had in her head of the perfect lover, she placed the idea onto Karim and pretended it fit. Their lack of communication costs them the relationship. Because of the secrecy of their relationship, Nazneen and Karim don't truly know each other, and haven't been true to their values in the relationship.
They could not see her any more than she could see God. They knew she existed (just as she knew that He existed) but unless she did something, waved a gun, halted the traffic, they would not see her.
This quote refers to Nazneen's first experience of walking around London and experiencing the anonymity of a large urban space. She is used to feeling very self-conscious and assuming everyone is watching her, ready to find fault or criticize her. In fact, when she moves through the city, everyone is preoccupied with their own lives, and no one notices her at all. Partially because the city is so large, and partially because of her status as a working-class woman of color, no one is interested in Nazneen. She finds this anonymity liberating because it means she can go about her business in peace, and make her own small daily decisions. This experience of being able to move freely through the city is one the first signs that Nazneen is going to become more autonomous and independent.
Amma hugged her fiercely. She took Nazneen's wide face between her two palms and spoke to her: "If God wanted us to ask questions, he would have made us men."
Nazneen remembers this childhood encounter with her mother, which takes place when Nazneen asks a question about her father's behavior. Her mother's comment makes it clear that she sees very different and very rigid gender roles for men and women. Amma transmits the idea to her young daughter that women have no control over their fate, and should not try to think for themselves. This quotation shows why Nazneen grows up believing that she needs to be totally obedient to her husband, and takes a long time to learn that she can make her own choice. The quotation is also interesting because Nazneen takes her mother's lessons about submission and obedience seriously, but Hasina forms her own ideas, which leads her to live a more rebellious life.
All he could do was talk. The baby was just another thing to talk about. For Nazneen, the baby's life was more real than her own. His life was full of needs: actual and urgent needs, which she could supply.
This quote shows the contrast in how Nazneen and Chanu experience parenthood. Chanu is a proud and doting father, but he is focused on dreams for his son's future. He does not have to think about any of the day-to-day realities of taking care of a tiny baby. Chanu remains self-absorbed because he puts his own ambitions onto his son. For Nazneen, on the other hand, she thinks about the practical things her son needs. Having someone to think about other than herself pushes Nazneen to become more critical of her husband. She is frustrated because she fears that Chanu's incompetence and inability to make a better life is now going to impact not just her, but also her children.
What had made her so happy? She drew a face and made it smile. I fought for him. She added a matchstick body. Not accepting. Fighting.
This quote shows Nazneen at a happy moment, just before the tragedy of her son's death. At this point, it seems like Raqib is going to make a full recovery. Nazneen reflects on why she has been feeling so much better even though she has just gone through such a stressful experience. When her son falls ill, Nazneen asserts herself for the first time in her life. She is used to simply accepting fate, but she cannot passively accept that her son might die. At this moment, it seems like Nazneen has successfully been able to drive away death, and this gives her a newfound sense of her own power. Especially because she has grown up knowing that her own mother did not intervene to try and save the life of her daughter, Nazneen takes pride in having made a different choice in her own life.
What could not be changed must be borne. And since nothing could be changed, everything had to be borne. This principle ruled her life. It was mantra, fettle, and challenge.
This comment from the narrator articulates the philosophy that dominates Nazneen's life for much of the novel. She grows up in a family and culture where she is expected to be docile, patient, and undemanding. She learns from observing her mother that a woman is expected to be relatively passive in her roles as both wife and mother. This expectation explains why Nazneen often simply goes along with whatever Chanu decides. She does not see herself as an individual with agency. However, readers eventually come to see that Nazneen does not truly accept whatever happens to her. In some ways, the plot of the novel serves to show Nazneen transforming into someone who no longer simply passively accepts whatever life hands to her.
All the while, when Nazneen turned to her prayers and tried to empty her mind and accept each new thing with grace or indifference, Chanu worked his own method. He was looking for the same essential thing. But he thought he could grab it from outside and hold it against his chest like a shield.
This quote shows Nazneen truly understanding Chanu for the first time, and feeling compassion for him. For the first three years of their marriage, Nazneen is often frustrated with her husband. She thinks he is too stubborn to notice that his dreams are not leading anywhere. However, when their infant son gets sick, Nazneen sees a gentle and nurturing side to Chanu. She also realizes that, like her, he often feels vulnerable and at the mercy of events he cannot control. While Nazneen copes with this instability and disappointment by trying to accept whatever happens and silence all of her desires, Chanu keeps struggling against his fate, and vainly believing he can exert his will. Once Nazneen understands that her husband is having experiences similar to her own, she becomes much more patient and loving with him.
Out of the bedroom, she was—in starts—afraid and defiant. If ever her life was out of her hands, it was now. She had submitted to her father and married her husband; she had submitted to her husband. And now she gave herself up to a power greater than these two, and she felt herself helpless before it.
This quote reveals the peculiar way in which Nazneen rationalizes her adultery. She has the choice about whether or not to pursue a relationship with Karim, and she nurtures her attraction to him long before the two begin sleeping together. However, she refuses to take any responsibility for her decision, and clings to the belief that she has no say in the matter. In this quote, Nazneen compares obedience to an arranged marriage with a decision to have an affair, even though the two actions are almost entirely different. She is so used to assuming someone else has power and agency over her that she cannot understand that in her relationship with Karim, she stands as an equal. This quote shows the depth of Nazneen's passion and desire, since it feels to her like a force she can only submit to.
"Why did she do it? Why does she do these things?"
Nazneen glanced down and was surprised to see her legs. "Because," she said, "she isn't going to give up."
This dialogue is exchanged between Chanu and Nazneen over the phone after Chanu has returned to Bangladesh. He is telling Nazneen that Hasina has run off with the cook. Chanu is astonished that Hasina keeps rebelling, and cannot simply settle down, be content, and live quietly. Nazneen, however, can understand her sister's behavior, especially now that she has asserted her own independence. Even though Hasina has suffered as a result of the risks she has taken, she believes in the possibility of happiness and love. She isn't going to accept her fate, and she will always try to change her life for the better.
And there was this shapeless, nameless thing that crawled across her shoulders and nested in her hair, and poisoned her lungs, that made her both restless and listless. "What do you want with me?" she asked it. "What do you want?" it hissed back.
This quote reveals Nazneen's discomfort as she tries to focus on being passive and obedient. At this point in the novel, she is a young bride who is trying to reconcile herself to a lonely and isolated life. Nazneen tries to deny the fact that she longs to experience a more vibrant existence, but the personification of her desire haunts her. The quote presents her desire as as sinister, possibly even demonic presence. She tries to subdue it and make it go away, but Nazneen is haunted by the knowledge that deep down, she is unhappy and wants more from life.
Brick Lane Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Brick Lane is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.